- In the wake of winning a gold medal in PyeongChang, the U.S. Women's Hockey team is using its spotlight to address this question: "How can we grow that next generation of female athletes?”"
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — At the upteenth stop of this endless celebration, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson was standing amid a cluster of reporters, bleary and battling the sniffles. “I’m just trying to get through without coughing all over,” she said. “I think a few of us are coming down with colds. But it’s pretty easy to get up for this stuff, seeing the excitement for our team.”
Five out of five doctors will agree: Gold makes for the best medicine. Draped around their necks a week and a half ago at the PyeongChang Games, the members of the United States women’s hockey team have hardly removed their medals since. First they jetted to Los Angeles, where they appeared on Ellen and gifted its host with a signed stick and No. 1 Team USA jersey. Then they headed to the Tampa area, site of their pre-Olympics training facility, and were honored before the Lightning-Sabres game last week. Two days later, it was off to D.C.
“We haven’t had a ton of sleep,” captain Meghan Duggan said before Saturday’s NHL Stadium Series outdoor game at Navy, after her team had already visited the State Department, hosted a practice session with more than 200 local girls and attended Wizards-Raptors. “But how many times in your life do you get to do a victory tour after a gold medal?”
Like many of her teammates, Duggan remembers the last time such a victory tour happened in this country. Scrolling through her cell phone, she quickly pulls up a picture for proof—a picture of a picture, really, since it was snapped two decades ago. In the grainy image, a 10-year-old Duggan is wearing an oversized Team USA jersey. Standing over her left shoulder is forward Gretchen Ulion, displaying a gold medal from the Nagano Games—the United States’ last before PyeongChang—and smiling. On her right is sister Katelyn, holding an autographed box of Wheaties. The cereal still resides at Duggan’s childhood home, cherished for the inspiration it provided.
“From that day forward, I wanted to be on this team,” she said. “I told everyone I knew. I built my life around it. That team, those girls lit the fire in my heart. It’s why I am who I am, and why I’m here today, because of those girls. We definitely want to have that impact on the next generations.”
The breakfast category has already been covered; Duggan will soon be featured on a special edition of Special K. Next comes something much more satisfying. In 1998, defenseman Kacey Bellamy was early into her hockey career when she caught sight of Hall-of-Famer Cammi Granato wearing gold. “Mom,” Bellamy declared, then and there, “I want to be an Olympian.”
Twenty years later, Bellamy and her teammates were lacing skates and practicing alongside dozens of aspiring players at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Va., awestruck by the wide-eyed young girls who just wanted to wear their medals for a second. “The biggest thing for us is sharing the gold, being able to do something bigger than just having it for ourselves,” Bellamy says. “It’s, how can we grow that next generation of female athletes?”
“That's who we’re going to impact the most,” said Lamoureux-Davidson, whose iconic, whipsaw shootout goal decided the gold medal win over Canada, “through what our team has meant, creating change, being a movement for positivity for young women, and not just hockey, but for everyone. That’s who I think is going to feel this impact the most. That was pretty cool.”
Indeed, they are paving the paths in more ways than one. It was less than a year ago that the players ended their boycott by striking a deal with USA Hockey for fairer wages and equitable support. Brands beyond Kellogg's will surely explore endorsement deals. Interviews at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium invariably contained some call for a merger between the National Women’s Hockey League and the Canadian Women’s Hockey League as well, which would establish a unified professional outfit in North America. “That’s the biggest step,” Bellamy said. “People want to see the best players in Canada, and the best players in the U.S. go against each other. That’s what it’s all about. That’s how we’re going to grow the game. I think this Olympics was huge for that movement.”
Each autograph, each picture, each stop on the victory tour brings further confirmation of the team's impact. “A big thing for us is wanting to do something with it, wanting to find that deeper purpose, take our gold medals, share them with everyone at home and inspire that next generation,” Duggan says. Eventually the players will scatter, bound for individual parties in their respective cities, though not before meeting teammate Hilary Knight in New York City—where she cameoed on Saturday Night Live—and snapping pictures atop the Empire State Building.
But first, Capitals-Maple Leafs. During a TV timeout midway through the first period, the video screens panned to Duggan. She was standing beside a young girl with a gold medal around her neck. They waved at the camera, and smiled super wide.